Timelord Interviews Nova 619's Darren Blackburn
created 12/30/2013 - 2:22pm, updated 12/30/2013 - 2:59pm
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to interview one of the world’s foremost Richard Rider Nova fans, Mr. Darren Blackburn. As regular CBN visitors know, Darren is a prolific writer and artist who has consistently been a top-tier contributor to Rider Nova fandom with his Nova 619 Universe digital comic books and his participation in fan-generated Rider Nova advocacy issues. Hailing from the UK, he is also CBN’s resident Doctor Who expert and reviewer of all new episodes of the series. He frequently posts insightful comments on comic book forums at CBN and various other fan sites.
Timelord: Darren. Thank you for agreeing to participate in this interview. I think all your fans at CBN will enjoy getting to learn a bit more about you and your projects.
Darren Blackburn: I’m very glad to have a breather to do this TL!
TL: Tell us about your inspiration for the Nova 619 digital comic.
Darren: I started pre-planning Nova619 in 2009. Previously I had done a few fan-fics for Nova but I opted to start a fan web-comic in order to be a bit different. At the time, Nova adventures in Vol 4 under DnA were still going on, but as we moved into 2010 we had the announcement that the series was ending after The Thanos Imperative, so I wanted to ensure I did my own bit to keep Rich Rider alive and ticking. There were other fan fics out there but I opted to keep the flame going by setting the series in an alternative universe; hence the "619" where certain things could remain faithful to Nova’s resurgence after Annihilation, but give freedom to do things a bit different from what we’d seen in the regular comic. So going back to the actual inspiration, I’d say it was down to Annihilation. Because that mini-series brought Nova on to the A-list, and thus acted as my ignition to do a comic series. Besides, I’d been itching to use my art talents, but as it turned out, Nova619 became more than just a web-comic.
TL: I realize that putting together a project like 619 is an enormous undertaking. Give us an idea of the process, how much work actually went into putting 619 together, and what it takes to keep it going.
Darren: In the beginning, there was me and two other artists, Jason Heichel from Pennsylvania and Israel Huertas from Spain. I joined Deviant Art (DA), which is an online community for artists in many genres from comic art to photography. I joined it on a whim after some of the fan art I had seen up at Nova Prime Page was posted at DA. Turned out Israel was one of the artists and we got talking. Israel at the time was doing fan art pics featuring Nova for a prolific Spanish Nova fan site while Jason just liked to draw anything – particularly Manga. And Manga and Nova sorta gel together. So between us we designed the look of Rich in the Nova 619 Universe and other characters; both original and revised Marvel ones such as Peter Quill and Kika. After we did the first two prologue strips we started work on "Protect and Serve," the first arc, but it became clear that we needed more contributors!
It was here when I opted to make 619 an interactive project. I could not pay for artists, and I wanted to keep Nova619 free for download to keep to its fan-fic roots, but it was clear a lot of would-be comic artists were at DA who wanted to learn sequential art or do covers to improve their skills in pencils, inks or coloring; so we started recruiting. So we got folks in like Barry Chadler or Pierre Minne or Fernando Brazuna or writers like CBN’s Byron Brewer - because as it turned out Nova is known a lot all over the world -m ore than you think! I mean who can resist that rocket trail and cool helmet! What began then still goes on today when producing Nova619 episodes; although to be honest finding volunteers is more difficult now for those that want to do it free. So that’s something I’ll have to address sooner or later.
The fact is a lot of time and work does go into 619. Some may think that we don’t do as much - as say how a regular comic artist does a regular gig - but as it is the same amount of time and commitment, it has to be done even for a fan comic like Nova619: working on plots, sketches, drawing pages or covers, proofing - and all voluntary – trying to keep to deadlines (yeah, we have those!), doing it side by side for regular paid work. It takes months to do one episode let alone five or six, but I think off hand we’ve done over 300 pages of art so far.
I have about 2-3 years worth of ideas still left to do, but to keep Nova619 going and not falling into that trap a lot of fan comics succumb to is really down to readers appreciating it, and more so, getting volunteers to commit to it even for one episode. I’m still lucky that Jason is still onboard even today, but yeah it depends on new blood so we have an open door policy in which anyone can take part and contribute to keep it going. It would be nice to have some extra peeps to bounce off ideas for stories and plots; so if you’re reading this and you’re an avid Nova fan and want to have a go helping with an episode – contact me!
TL: One of the things that I’ve liked about 619 is the exploration of Rich’s complicated love life. Marvel failed to explore that fully with most of the previous Nova series. Without any major spoilers, what can you tell us about Rich 619’s love life in upcoming issues, and while we’re on the subject of upcoming issues, what can fans expect from 619 in the future?
Darren: Well as you may have noticed, I recently re-introduced Ginger Jaye back into the Nova fold in "Home!" I always liked Rich’s relationship with Ginger - his school sweetheart - but let’s face it, it never had a satisfactory resolution. I mean, she ended up calling him a murderer! So when DnA brought her back in the Nova Annual, I opted to bring her back for 619, although as you will recall she did feature prominently in the original 615 fan-fic version of "Home!" How much she appears in the future I’ll keep that under my helmet. I also brought back Gamora in "Fatal Attraction" – back as leader of the Graces and promptly had her stab Rich in the chest! Okay he recovered, he’s got great stamina, but yeah she’ll be back as well. But who gets to be Rich’s wife in the far distant future?? Hmmm.
As for upcoming stories, well after "Home" ends, 619 will be taking a break for a few months as I need to press on with recruiting to get art done for 2014. But next on the arc list is my version of Epyrus. I mean, that’s the one dangling plot line from the good old days that Marvel never got around to dealing with. Okay, there have been fan fic versions already, but all I will say is that I hope everyone will like my take on it. I mean any story that features TWO Rich Riders is bound to intrigue.
I also plan to do some non-Nova single episodes to flesh out the UDI Crew. So expect spotlights on Peter Quill, a new character called "Sahmuq" and a certain praetorian Dark Nova. Byron keeps asking me to do a Wonder Worlock follow-up to "Cop and Conjurer!"
TL: You and I have discussed this before and in my own fan fics I’ve addressed LGBT issues – making some characters Bi or Gay. It’s a hot topic in comicdom nowadays and you’ve addressed the issue in the 619 as well. What are your feelings about how LGBT issues are addressed in comic books and can we expect to see these issues further explored in the 619?
Darren: I think gay and ethnic characters should be given more spotlight. It took Marvel long enough to marry off Northstar! I have no restrictions in 619 – that’s the advantage of a fan comic, although just to make sure I don’t upset anyone I don’t plan to make Rich gay! Well not the 619 version at least!
TL: You have been a prolific Nova fan art contributor not only with 619 but also producing a Calendar most recently and contributing art and design work to various Nova projects. Tell us about your background in art and where we might find your work displayed on the web.
Darren: I began drawing when I was an amoeba. Seriously, when I was young but I never went to art college. I did design at school. I work in printing today and have done for the last 20 years. Comic side all self taught, especially my digital inking skills. But it’s learning from greats like Joe Sinnott and others who inked early Nova comics that inspired me. My online gallery is at Deviant Art and you can find the Nova 619 Deviant Art hub here.
TL: Where do you think Marvel has gone wrong with Nova – both historically and currently?
Darren: In the past Marvel never gave him enough exposure. Take Annihilation; Marvel went out of its way to plug Civil War, which had its ups and downs, but Annihilation – a far better mini - never got a viral campaign. Same applies to DnA’s series. It was the core fans that did their best to support Nova, but if the boys in charge had done better it's likely we’d still have Rich around now. Marvel says Rich failed because fans deserted him and in doing so made way for current Nova, Sam Alexander. Fact is, it's simple policy at the top. Fact also is that we could have had a franchise like DC’s Green Lantern with several Nova and Cosmic related characters, but we don’t. I don’t have anything nasty to say about Infinity and the works of Johnathan Hickman - I loved it - but they could have done more for Nova and any of the great cosmic entities most core fans still care for today.
TL: What do you think Marvel got right about Nova historically?
Darren: That apart from the current editorial team, successive editor and creative teams did their best for the character. That they push him forward - keeping in mind Marv Wolfman’s framework - yet evolving him for the then contemporary audience. I think most decisions were spot on even though at first some of them seemed odd. In irony, I hated Rich’s grunge phase at first in New Warriors, but over time I realized it worked because of the time lag since his last appearance in Rom 24. Making him a bad ass and strategic commander of the United Front was inspired even though the character trait was radically different from his previous encounters in Marvel Two in One under Robert Kirkman – but it worked wonders. There’s no excuse that Rich can’t be slotted into the current MU as long as the creative team respects the source material, but we unfortunately don’t have that right now. In some ways Rich in the 616 in limbo is perhaps the best place to be until we get another team that cares properly for the character and Wolfman’s legacy. I hope that happens one day.
TL: Turning to another major love of yours and mine, tell us your feelings about how Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor was finished up and your feelings about Peter Capaldi taking over the role. What do you think we can expect from the next series featuring Capaldi?
Darren: I think "Time of the Doctor" was good but not great. I think it needed more breathing space like the 50th anniversary - an extra 15/30 minutes to address the Silence arc properly. Even so made me cry! I still prefer Tennant to Smith, but even so Matt did a wonderful job since 2010 and proved a young, mostly unknown actor could handle the most auspicious acting role in the cosmos! I have to say I’m looking forward to Calpaldi. I prefer an older Doctor – maybe a more wicked sense of humor and a bit more darker and serious – a cross between Tom Baker and William Hartnell. After all, I hope Moffat doesn’t ignore that the Valeyard - his darker self - is supposed to crop up between regen 12 and 13! Thank you Time Lords! Calpaldi features in upcoming series The Musketeers as the villain Cardinal Richelieu; so I’m looking forward to seeing him in that.
TL: What was it like seeing Tom Baker make a surprise cameo in the 50th Anniversary special?
Darren: Very nice! Tom was my Doctor, and I think the cameo was excellent! Although I think most fans knew he was making an appearance, but as soon as he spoke even before he appeared on screen it gave my inner Who child a nice smile to play with.
TL: What did you think about Paul McGann, the 8th Doctor, in the webisode chronicling his regeneration into John Hurt’s “War Doctor?” I hear some fans in the UK are calling for a spin-off webisode series featuring Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor. Any opinion about that?
Darren: I think they should do it, although the 8th Doctor has been featured in Big Finish’s audio drams for a while now. Go and find them out at Amazon as they’re officially canon now. Although I’d prefer a series with the Paternoster Gang since the BBC has recently cancelled Ripper Street! Strax, Jenny and Vashta in Victorian times would make up the scheduling gap in spades!
TL: What are your opinions about some of the existing spin-off series from Dr. Who such as Torchwood, Sarah Jane, and K-9?
Darren: I hated the Australian K9 series! One episode was enough for me so that I think sums my view on that! Torchwood, however, was a great series until it went full time American. Sorry about how that sounds but I prefer the darker and gritty underbelly of Cardiff to San Francisco any day. It was a near-perfect partner to Doctor Who by allowing us to see things that the parent series would never dare show on Saturday tea-times! I think "Children of Earth" was its zenith; a dark thriller with a really nasty concept for a monster which still gives me shivers today. I also liked Sarah-Jane; Liz Sladen is still sorely missed by everyone.
TL: What comic books do you read regularly at this time, and what are your all-time favorite comic books?
Darren: Well my Marvel pull list is very small these days! I read Avengers by Hickman, Hulk by Waid and soon the revamped FF. I’m looking forward to Revolutionary War bringing back classic Marvel UK heroes such as Digitek, Motormouth and Cap Britain, which I read in the old Strip anthology back in the 80’s. They’re great characters, and I think Andy Lanning will do them justice. All time faves are Nova, GOTG, FF, Iron Man and anything Cosmic. I recently got the collected Thanos: Redemption which collects Keith Giffen/Ron Lim’s short run featuring Peter Quill at the Kyln prior to Annihilation so that fills a big gap in my collection!
TL: What genre websites do you visit nearly every day and why?
Darren: Nova Prime Page, CBN and Doctor Who TV - and because they’re good. I also follow several blogs and of course for 619 visit Deviant Art daily.
TL: What written science-fiction and fantasy are you reading at present and what are your all-time favorites? Same question regarding TV and movies.
Darren: Fav author is UK’s Peter F. Hamiliton. I have every novel he’s written – the last was Great North Road which was a sci-fi murder mystery. Others include Joe Haldleman’s Forever War. Mostly old classics rather than contemporary novels. TV: Agents of SHIELD, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and Stargate; although I also like nature, science and quiz shows!
TL: Tell us about European fandom. What are the similarities to and differences from US fandom?
Darren: I don’t see any real differences apart from the occasional language differences. Both sides of the pond are as equally passionate for the genre.
TL: Darren, thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions and thanks for all you do for the Rider Nova fan community. Your work is admired and appreciated.
Darren: Thank You! And my best for everyone at CBN for 2014!